When People Are Indirect, Try This

by | Oct 7, 2019 | Nonviolent Communication

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Communication is tricky. People often speak indirectly, in code.

You know what I mean. Like, when they say …

“UGH, I hate always being the one to take out the garbage in the cold… why do I always have to do it?”

Now, we all know that they aren’t really asking why…

If you were to say: “Because you agreed to when we split up the chores,” it’s highly unlikely they’d say: “Oh yes, you’re right. What a relief to be reminded of that — I feel so much more at peace now.”

Nope. Unlikely.

Whenever you come across ambiguous statements, take the time to make the implicit message, explicit.

How? By saying this:

“It sounds like (state your interpretation) — Is that true?”

For example:

  • “It sounds like you are sick of taking out the garbage and wish I would rescue you from this chore — Is that true?”

  • “It sounds like you want me to bring you a coat — is that true?”

  • “It sounds like you think you’re the only person to ever take the garbage out — is that true?”

It doesn’t really matter if your interpretation is right or wrong — let go of that.

If you’re right, at least you are starting the conversation from a place of shared reality and you both know what you are actually talking about.

If you’re wrong, clarifying before jumping in further can only help.

So, two tips for this week:

When you talk in code:

Ask for what you want, directly and in concrete terms. Stop trying to “soften” what you want through complaining, criticizing, suggesting or being subtle. It makes everyone miserable.

When others talk in code:

When they complain, criticize or use intentionally ambiguous innuendos, just use the simple phrase: “It sounds like … is that true?” and establish a sense of shared reality before going any further!

Try it out, and let me know how it goes!

1 Comment

  1. chris

    Sometimes, I talk in code, but it has nothing to do with the other person. I’m trying to translate a bigger vision into smaller steps, then seeing something that would benefit that other person. This is all very hard for me to do, so out comes some unclear word salad.

    Sometimes, someone hears that and then takes offense, then its hard for me to explain what I’m trying to do, as then it seems like I’m "hiding" some other motive.

    So what I love about you article, is that even if I feel unclear and I end up speaking unclearly, I have at least way forward: I can interpret what they are making of my confusion. Ha.


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